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Refining Innovation or Opening Innovation?

Guest post by Kevin Flora


In a recent podcast, the discussion was focused around inventions.  The question was asked, “have all of the good inventions already been invented?”  The answer to this question was not a surprise.  Instead of inventing new products, the past few decades have focused on improving already existing products – making the cell phone smaller, computer storage larger, etc.  In a sense, our human minds have transformed the definition of innovation to mean refining existing material. 

Now focus on innovation in the field of education.  The layout of a classroom, the way teaching is conducted, and the school system has not changed much since the 19th century.  We still sit in rows, have a hierarchical structure that is controlled by negative reinforcement, and read textbooks.  Education as a whole is a closed system.  Innovation in education would then be a matter of refining a closed system to benefit the individual learner.  We see “innovative” ideas such as placing technology in the classroom, the flipped learning style, and project-based learning.  But is that all that is left to do in education?  Can there be more?  Have all of the good inventions already been invented?

I want to introduce you to Buddy Berry.  He is the superintendent of Eminence Independent Schools in Eminence, Kentucky.  The small school building which houses all K-12 students was producing some of the lowest standardized test scores in the state prior to Berry’s leadership.  Instead of refining Eminence procedures, Berry opened up his mind to endless possibilities (resulting in a complete turnaround on state scores).  Along with having a classroom (wifi included) on a bus, a slide in the cafeteria, and kindergarten-aged kids completing an online presentation before moving on to first grade, Berry is working on changing Kentucky’s policy on enrollment.  Instead of going to a school based on where one lives, Berry proposes the state to have open enrollment and students should choose their school.  Some states already have this option, but Berry asserts that children in Kentucky could have a better education if they were able to have options in their education. 

Implications of going from closed enrollment to open enrollment are amazing.  New jobs are created so consultants can help parents / guardians customize schooling based on what is best for the child.  Essentially, every student has an individualized learning plan that extends from one end of the state to the other.  Also, schools are in competition to provide better quality education to keep students coming in.  Instead of considering innovation as a refining process, try to think of how you can innovate with an open mindset.  Do not grow weary of changing the world!   If you knew anything that you did would succeed, how would you open up your educational setting?

Image credit: Flickr user masondan  

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